Embodied and cybernetic…

jam-hack is Mammoth’s post on “Blocking all Lanes-Traffic” the first chapter in the second section, Fabric, of the Kazys Varnelis edited The Infrastructural City. This essay by Sean Dockray, Fiona Whitten and Steve Rowell examines, the nature of traffic, the history of traffic control and also diagrams the effect of the 2004 funeral/procession of Ronald Reagan, on the Los Angeles traffic system. All of these examinations touch on two concepts. First embodiment, questioning or exploring the symbiotic relationship between man and traffic as “experienced” infrastructural system. The second, is the lense/action of the hack. The operational, or active. End user as agent

As others wrote,

In both cases — whether the hack is understood as a way of implementing a new infrastructure or as a new kind of architectural act — the key realization is that successful shifts in urban form will only happen when they are paired with successful alterations of the infrastructures, systems, and flows that generate those forms. Attempts to construct a new vision for the city that fail to grapple with the underlying systems that, like traffic, constitute and produce the city will ultimately either be ineffective or collapse catastrophically.

There were two pieces of the essay that really jumped out at me. In the first, I may be misreading the “tone” , but I found myself troubled when the authors; Sean Dockray, Fiona Whitten and Steve Rowell write

but neither… is allowed to archive footage or to feed even a single frame of video to Los Angeles Police Department or other law enforcement agencies.” and further “Apparently, privacy concerns outweigh the value of traffic surveillance at this scale.

This within a discussion of 700+ camera system ATSAC and CALTRANS have for surveillance of their sections of the Los Angeles traffic networks. Now, while I am all for the democratizing/opening up of data, I found myself relieved to read that law enforcement was not able to lay theirs hands (easily) on the data from that surveillance network. Is the only concern the most efficient engineering, after all? Or, perhaps I have too criminal of a history..

One result of the essay’s exploration of the semantics of traffic congestion-jam-etc (as a body/anatomical/medical term) is a parallel understanding applied to the evolution/history of traffic control. Policemen were even in the beginning a “control” (perhaps the first to “hack” such systems???) mechanism of sorts. Over time becoming more mechanized, computational and symbolic. Gloves, whistles, flags, towers, all signals of a sort. Man as machine. This evolution even more apparent with the development (in the 1930s) of a “master-controller” both man and device.

Perhaps, the cybernetic characteristic encourages but also necessitates the hack as opposed to the plan?

Finally, I was intrigued by their choice of Ronald Reagan’s funeral/procession as an event through which traffic patterns could be explored. It was ironic on some level if only because in mind there is a close connection between the America of Ronald Reagan and my conception of a traffic jammed Los Angeles. If only in era, alone. Along with their diagrams they include examples from incident reports, direct feed of a sort from the traffic streams. There is a symmetry it seems to me between the hack and the “incident”. Both can be sudden, unplanned, asymmetrical and deadly. The incidents read almost like text messages, a chat room transcript, or even a stock ticker…..

The essay closes with the phrase “no grid…no gridlock“. Perhaps, the solution is the introduction of the idea of the Z axis?


2 thoughts on “Embodied and cybernetic…

  1. Pingback: reading the infrastructural city: chapter five index – mammoth // building nothing out of something

  2. Pingback: additional traffic – mammoth // building nothing out of something

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